Did you know?
The riverine rabbit is the only indigenous burrowing rabbit in Africa.
There are thought to be only a few hundred left, which is why this handsome little creature with its distinctive matinee idol ‘moustache’, white-ringed eyes and fluffy feet is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Riverine rabbits are found nowhere except in South Africa’s Karoo region, and as their name indicates, their preferred habitat is along the dry riverbeds of this arid region. They rely on the deep, silty soils for burrowing, and the river-edge plants, which remain greener for longer, even when the rivers are completely dry. Many riverbanks in this area have been degraded by grazing and crops.
Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to the species’ survival.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Riverine Rabbit Programme is based in the tiny Karoo town of Loxton, and works closely with local farmers to save the rabbit, including rehabilitating degraded riverbanks with suitable plants.
The riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is nocturnal. It lies up in shallow scrapes under bushes during the day, and sallies out at night to hunt for its favourite buchu and inkbush leaves and flowers. Riverine rabbits only live for about 3 years, and females mostly have about 4 babies in their lifetimes, all born in burrows lined with fur and leaves.
With so few riverine rabbits, it’s difficult to build up a picture of their habits. The Endangered Wildlife Trust has observed them through camera traps, activated by motion. One of the first things the researchers learned was that these nocturnal creatures are often still out in the very early morning, especially in winter.
Riverine rabbits are obviously difficult to see. Even fieldworkers can go for years without actually encountering one.
So it was a real thrill for conservationists in 2006 when the privately-owned Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, only 3 hours’ drive from Cape Town, found its 54 000 hectares were home to several riverine rabbits.
The management at this private reserve set up a monitoring programme that recently celebrated its 101st riverine rabbit sighting.
Dunedin Farm near Loxton also offers special drives to look for riverine rabbits. A number have been photographed on their farm using camera traps.
The riverine rabbit’s range has been found to stretch far further south, in recent years, than its ‘traditional’ range around the towns of Williston, Fraserburg, Carnarvon, Victoria West and Loxton in the dry Karoo region.
It has always been an elusive animal, first described for science in 1902 by a British trooper recuperating at the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War) field hospital at Deelfontein in what is now the Free State. Then it disappeared for decades.
In the 1940s, the Kaffrarian Museum in King William’s Town offered a pound per specimen – which is why the riverine rabbit is still sometimes called the pondhaas, which means 'pound rabbit' in Afrikaans.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Riverine Rabbit Programme, Endangered Wildlife Trust
Bonnie Schumann (field officer)
Tel: +27 (0)53 381 3068
Cell: +27 (0)72 122 4232
Christy Bragg (programme manager)
Tel: +27 (0)27 218 1276
Sanbona Wildlife Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)41 509 3000
Riverine Rabbit Retreat on Dunedin farm (between Loxton and Beaufort West)
Johan and Marietha Moolman
Tel: +27 (0)23 418 1628
Cell: +27 (0)83 579 8826
Jakhalsdans Game Farm and Guesthouse (near Loxton)
Nicola & Linda van der Westhuizen
Tel: +27 (0)53 381 3005
Cell: +27 (0)82 891 0481
Karoo Cottage (Loxton)
Tel: +27 (0)53 381 3091
Cell: +27 (0)83 384 8223
Four Seasons Guesthouse (Loxton)
Tel: +27 (0)72 377 0602
Rus 'n Bietjie Guesthouse (Loxton)
Tel: +27 (0)53 381 3031
Loxton Guesthouse (Loxton)
Tel: +27 (0)72 037 6660